India is no stranger to secessionist movements and Kashmir is no different in this respect. India has had to weather insurgencies in many states in the 20th century and has always succeeded in stemming this tide. There has been no exception.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The events of the last one month have, however, made commentators think otherwise. It is now being openly argued that such is the extent of alienation in Kashmir valley that, except for letting it go, there is little else that can be done. We believe this is a misreading of the situation and there is little to theories of Kashmiri exceptionalism.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), more than any other state, has suffered from a deficit of good governance. Since 1953, when autonomy of the state was greatly whittled down, most elections have been rigged there. This has deprived the people living there of precious public goods such as uncorrupt public representatives, equality of opportunity in public employment, and finally security. New Delhi’s preoccupation with security fundamentally eroded what it sought. This has greatly fuelled alienation.
But there’s more to this story. There is no way of providing public goods efficiently in a centralized manner. As a result, border provinces have problems in getting the right quantity of these goods. Punjab and states in the North-East have seen separatism. So, in that sense there is nothing exceptional to Kashmir’s current woes. This is where the Left (and now liberal) opinion misreads the situation.
Very good solutions exist to provide these goods on a decentralized basis. The Centre did not believe this was possible as it felt Kashmir was an exception. This was at the root of the problem. This required enhancement of autonomy and not squeezing it, as has been the case in J&K.
Instead what it tried was to give the government of J&K generous amounts of money. This, coupled with the promotion of venal local politicians (who were selected for their “right” security credentials), was a sure recipe for disaster.
Reversing alienation should be New Delhi’s top priority. This is difficult but not impossible. But it requires a change in attitudes. First, pro-India credentials alone should not be a criterion for elected office. The reason why democracies are successful is that people know what candidates are good for them. This will help. Two, greater autonomy for the state will go a long way in taking the wind out of secessionist sails. However improbable it may seem, such steps have the potential to stem alienation.
How can J&K be “normalized” again?
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